This is part 2 of a 2 part series by Liz Stanford who is sharing her experience with discrimination in the workplace. If you haven't read part 1, you can find it here.
Boss A began to say how someone in a wheelchair wouldn't be able to do this job because you have to be able to climb onto things pretty often.
This made sense to me because it wasn't like you could install a lift next to every machine. Then he said we can't have you recording customers or have you not be able to understand them the first time they say something. In a roundabout way, he led up to you might not be able to do this job.
After we hung up I cried in my car for an hour or so. I couldn't believe I had stepped into this nightmare. My life felt like it was falling apart. I was also angry. By this point, I had only been working there for two months. I was getting very worried about my employment at this point so I started looking up listening and memory exercises online.
I told him the next time that I found a few, but most were for children but I was at least trying. Boss A said that I need to do those because those skills are just as bad as a child's. Honestly, after that day I went blank.
I don't remember much of what he said after. About a week or two later he was out of the office traveling for work for two weeks. I felt so much better and saw a huge improvement in myself. He came back from his trip and I had new hope that I could be amazing at my job and not have any issues.
The next day I was let go.
He never got that new system like he said he would, he kept telling me to not use my notes as a reference and scolded me every single time I wrote a word wrong in an email or didn't answer an email within five minutes because I was in a meeting. I was going home crying every night, stressed to the point that my boyfriend at the time was pulling some gray hairs out of my head.I wish I could say that was the end of everything with this, but it wasn't. This is when I started to realize how behind the laws to protect people with disabilities were.
After all of this, you would hope I would get justice for the mistreatment and pain I endured.
Unfortunately, it is not that straight forward.
I was told by my old disability counselor at my college that I could report this to the government. At the same time, I was warned by others that this would be a mistake because if an investigation did happen, my old company would know who blew the whistle. This would be especially true since my office only had four people, so it would be extremely obvious that I spoke out.
If this made them mad, I could face issues getting employed later in life. They could make up lies to tell my future employers when they called to confirm when I was employed there. Because my old boss tended to make fun of and talk about past employees when I was there, my parents and I were worried he would speak badly about me to future employers.
An independent employment lawyer worked in the same office building as my dad. We asked for his advice on the matter. At the time, I wanted something to be seriously done since I knew if anyone else like me got that position, they would have the same issues.
We were told if we see evidence of Boss A talking badly about me that we could send a cease and desist. The lawyer also told us it would be useless to try to sue the company because there was little to no proof. Suing would also bring my name out to the open. I was warned that you didn't want to be known for suing people early in your career because it would make it harder to get hired in the future.
I was heartbroken when I heard this.
Even with the huge list of events that we sent to the lawyer of all the things Boss A had done, it was useless. Not going to lie, I was pretty depressed after this. Not only did I lose my job less than three months in and was unqualified for unemployment, but I also couldn't do anything about how I was treated.
I was still hopeful that this was a one-time thing and that it was weird luck that got me into that situation.
With all of this, I am a stronger person. It has been more than two years since I worked for Company A. This is not without emotional scarring.
I still get nightmares.
I still get flashbacks. These experiences didn't stop at Company A. Company B was more of a nightmare, but I am saving that story for later. Three jobs after finishing school and I am unemployed.
It is hard enough trying to get employed during a pandemic. It's even harder when you have to worry about whether a prospective company will allow me to have the proper support and accommodations that I need.
I am constantly afraid of getting into the same situation again. Constantly afraid that a boss who seems nice will turn into Boss A or even worse, Boss B.
Even though I know that the characteristics I've gained from these experiences are what many companies want to see in their employees, I can't talk about them during an interview.
When asked how I've faced challenges in the past, I want to bring all of this up, but I can't for fear of prejudice. Employers don't get to see my vigor or how passionate I am because I can't even be close to guaranteeing that I will still have a job or that I won't get harassed for telling these stories if I even get the job in the first place.
They just get to see a bubbly young woman who appears to be an air head because I am too afraid to speak. Because of the way society is now, I almost expect my employment life to be like this for the next few years and I am dreading it. I am dreading all the masking I will have to do when I work.
Since ADHD has many qualities that others may see as personality traits, I have always felt like I had to mask how I act so that others do not suspect I have ADHD because knowing myself I would not be able to keep up the poker face if I was asked. I am not going too deeply into what people should get from this because I will be expanding on all of this in a book. It will share the rest of my story, including Company B.
Let’s just say, if Company A was like getting robbed a few bucks on the street, Company B was having your identity stolen and having thousands taken out of your account. I hope this part of my story makes readers angry and want to do something about this, especially when they see this happening to a coworker.
I also hope that it opens up kindness in people's hearts to be there for their coworkers that may be different than themselves. If we want to keep this from happening to our children and grandchildren, we need to spread awareness.
-Liz Stanford (Not my real name but my chosen pen name for this and the book)
P.S. If you have any inquiries or want to share your experiences of disability discrimination in the workplace, please feel free to email me at Liz.Stanfordwrites@gmail.com.
We appreciate Liz stepping forward to share her experience. Unfortunately these situations are more common than they are spoken about. Our goal is to keep raising awareness and opening these conversations. If you would like to share your story, please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.